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December 13, 2003

GrokLaw: MVP of the SCO Wars

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Liz has convinced me that one of the most profound effects of weblogs is the communal workings of those who publish them, and that they contribute significant new value to collaboration across disciplines and boundaries.

And now that she’s convinced me, I see the pattern everywhere. The Dean campaign piece I posted earlier today exhibits much of that pattern, and so does today’s Groklaw piece on SCO. By way of background, SCO, once a technology company, has become a company devoted to a single legal strategy:

1. Assert rights to the Unix operating system
2. Assert infirnging contributions of Unix source code to Linux
3. Sue firms that sell or use Linux, especially deep-pocketed IBM
4. Profit!!!1! (or at least buyout by IBM, to save them the expense of the suit.)

Much of the matter is in dispute, and IANAL, but what is clear is this: a) many SCO employees contributed to the Linux kernel, back when SCO was a tech company (“oldSCO”), with the approval of their bosses, and b) the Groklaw is doing an astonishing, world-changing job of finding, documenting and publicizing these occurrences (alongside much other work on the case.)

Today’s entry reads:
Groklaw has reported before on contributions made to the Linux kernel by Christoph Hellwig while he was a Caldera employee. We have also offered some evidence of contributions by oldSCO employees as well. Alex Rosten decided to do some more digging about the contributions of one kernel coder, Tigran Aivazian.


This paper is a group effort. Alex’s research was shared with others in the Groklaw community, who honed, edited, and added further research. Then the final draft was sent to Tigran himself, so he could correct and/or amplify, which he has done.
Look at that second graf: “This paper is a group effort.” Everyone always says that about complex work, but this is different. This is the end of two-party law, where plaintiff and defendant duke it out in an arms race of $350/hr laywers and “Take that” counter-motions.

Instead, we have a third party, Groklaw, acting as a proxy for millions of Linux users, affecting the public perception of the case (and the outcome SCO wants has to do with its stock price, not redress in the courts.) Groklaw may also be affecting the case in the courts, by helping IBM with a distributed discovery effort that they, IBM, could never accomplish on their own, no matter how may lawyers they throw at it.

There are two ways to change the amount of leverage you have. The obvious one is to put more force on the lever, and this is what SCO thought they were doing — engaging IBM in a teeter-totter battle that would make it cheaper for IBM to simply buy SCO.

The other way to get more leverage is to move the fulcrum. Groklaw has moved the fulcrum of this battle considerably closer to SCO, making it easier for IBM to exert leverage, and harder for SCO to. I can’t predict how the current conflict will end, but the pattern Groklaw has established, of acting on behalf of the people who will be adversely affected by a two-party legal battle, has already been vindicated, even if SCO avoids bankruptcy.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Meme Engineer on December 15, 2003 10:11 AM writes...

Hideously complex and complicated modern law, and the feeling of helplessness it engenders in the average person, is beginning to be brought under control by this sort of distributed, collaborative effort. This has interesting implications.

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